Meenakshi temple(also known as Meenakshi Amman Temple) is one of the primary Shakti Peeths at Madurai. It is the only temple in India having 4 Rajagopuram(towers), and another famous name is the Minakshi-Sundareshwara temple.
Thoonganagaram(The City that Never Sleeps in English) is the character of Madurai city, and it hosts the largest 17th-century temple complex in Tamilnadu. This complex spans an extensive 15 acres with a Hall of Thousand Pillars and 14 towers. The city is built around the Shiva lingam in the temple’s inner sanctum.
Its corridors are full of couples waiting to be married outside this ‘living temple.’ Often pilgrims visit the temple once in the morning and then come back to see the night ceremony.
The temple carries great historical and mythological importance. At the temple site, Lord Shiva assumed the form of Sundareswarar and tied the knot with Parvati(Meenakshi). The idol of warrior Goddess Meenakshi holds a parrot in her right hand, which is associated with the Vaishnava azhwar saint Andal.
Meenakshi Temple was nominated as a candidate for the world's wonders but could not make it onto the list of 'Seven Wonders of the World.' Still, the temple stands out as one of the 'Wonders of India' and the main attraction of South India.
More than a million pilgrims come from worldwide during the Tirukalyanam Festival, which is celebrated over ten days. For its maintenance, the temple earned the reputation of the ‘Best Swachh Iconic Place’ in India.
As per scholars, the history of Meenakshi Temple dates back to the 1st century CE, almost as old as the city itself. King Kulashekarar Pandyan ruled over the Pandyan dynasty. Lord Shiva gave him instruction in a dream to build a temple.
Some religious texts of the 1st to 4th century CE designates the temple as the city's focal point or central structure. Other texts of the early 6th century describe the temple as a meeting place for scholars to discuss important topics.
The temple was rebuilt throughout the 16th century after the Muslim invaders desecrated the temple. Malik Kafur, a commander of Delhi Sultanate, pillaged Meenakshi Temple and most of southern India. He carried gold, silver, precious gems, and valuables to Delhi in the 14the century CE.
Temples in ancient times had treasures of valuables, so most temples were devastated and left in disrepair. Later, the Vijayanagar Empire took over Madurai after Muslim Sultanate lost the battle. The temple was reerected and reopened to devotees. A king of the Nayaka dynasty, Vishwanatha Nayakar, expanded the temple during the late 16th century and early 17th century.
Ancient texts define ‘Silpa Shastras' as a set of architectural laws. As per researchers, the Nayaka dynasty rulers adopted the architectural style of 'Shilpa Shastras’ while renovating the temple.
Thirumalai Nayak again expanded the temple during his rule over Madurai from 1623 to 1655. ‘Mandapams’(pillared halls) were the new addition during his reign. Many later, Nayaka rulers renovated the temple before the arrival of the British East India Company.
British rule also saw the destruction of temple parts. Tamil Hindus collected donations, collaborated with engineers and historians to start off with restoration in 1959. The restoration was completed in 1995.
King Malayadwaja Pandya, along with his wife Kanchanamalai, performed a ‘Yagya’(sacred fire). As a result of ‘Yagya,' Meenakshi appeared as a three-year-old girl. The royal couple was issueless, and the king offered a prayer to Lord Shiva to grant him a son. Shiva is regarded as the god of destruction.
Instead of a son, a triple-breasted girl came out of the sacred fire. The king and his wife were aghast at the girl's abnormal appearance. A diving voice ordered them not to get anxious over the girl's physical appearance. The divine voice assured them that the girl's third breast would vanish when she meets her future husband.
The relieved couple christened her as Meenakshi and crowned her as his successor. Meenakshi ruled over Madurai and continued annexing the neighboring kingdoms. She even captured Indralok and subjugated Lord Indra. Then, she went on to capture Kailash, the place of Lord Shiva.
Meenakshi’s third breast disappeared when she confronted Shiva, and she began to regard him as her future husband. Both of them returned to Madurai, where they got married. All the gods and goddesses were the attendees at their wedding.
Lord Vishnu handed her over to Lord Shiva because he presided over Shiva and Meenakshi's wedding as Parvati's brother. The divine couple settled in Madurai, where they ruled as king and queen.
The wedding ceremony is celebrated every year as ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha.’ Another name of this grand wedding is ‘Tirukalyanam.’
Massive walls hem in the temple in the heart of Madurai to safeguard against the invasions. The entire structure resembles a mandala, which follows the laws of loci and symmetry. Many shrines exist within the temple complex.
Aside from two main deities Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, the temple has images of Ganesha and Murugan. The idols of goddesses Lakshmi, Rukmini, and Saraswati are also installed in the temple.
‘Porthamarai Kulam’ is a consecrated pond in the temple. The term means ‘ pond with a golden lotus.' You will see the structure of a golden lotus at the center of the pond. Lord Shiva blessed the pond and disallowed marine life in the pond. Per Tamil folklore, the pond is the evaluator for reviewing the value of any new literature.
Gopurams are the four main towering gateways, which are identical to one another. Many other ‘gopurams' act as gateways to several shrines. There are a total of 14 towering gateways.
These multi-story structures display thousands of mythological stories and other sculptures. The following are the prominent ‘gopurams’ of the temple:
Kadaka Gopuram –This gopuram takes you to the main shrine of Goddess Meenakshi. Tumpichi Nayakkar rebuilt this gateway during the mid-16th century. It has five stories.
Sundareswarar Shrine Gopuram –Kulasekara Pandya made this oldest gopuram of the temple. It is a gateway to the Sundareswarar(Lord Shiva) shrine.
Chitra Gopuram –Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II built this gopuram, which portrays the religious essence of Hinduism.
Nadukkattu Gopuram – This gateway between the two main shrines leads to the Ganesha shrine. Its other name is ‘Idaikattu Gopuram.'
Mottai Gopuram –This gopuram has fewer stucco images compared to other gateways. This gopuram is devoid of roof for three centuries.
Nayaka Gopuram –Visvappa Nayakkar built this ‘gopuram’ in 1530. This gopuram is strikingly similar to another gateway Palahai Gopuram.
Numerous pillared halls are called ‘Mandapams.' These halls were erected by emperors to serve as shelters for pilgrims. The following are some of the most critical 'Mandapams’:
Ayirakkal Mandapam –Ariyanatha Mudaliar constructed this hall with thousand pillars. Each pillar portrays the images of Yali, a mythological creature.
Kilikoondu Mandapam –This mandapam houses hundreds of parrots trained to chant 'Meenakshi.' The hall next to the Meenakshi shrine features the characters from Mahabharata.
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam –This hall features the sculptures of eight goddesses. Two queens built the hall and placed it between the main gopuram and the gateway.
Nayaka Mandapam – Chinnappa Nayakkar built Nayaka Mandapam. Around 100 pillars support it. It also houses a Nataraja statue.
Tamil Hindu family values the women as Meenakshi is the main female deity of the temple. Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism coexist in harmony at the temple. As per belief, Lord Shiva performed the cosmic dance of destruction(tandav) in Pancha Sabhai(five courts), and the Sundareswarar shrine is one of them. Rituals and processions are essential parts of worship.
A palanquin with an image of Sundareswarar is taken out to the shrine of Meenakshi. As per ritual, every night, the palanquin is taken into the shrine and brought back to the shrine of Sundareswarar every morning. The devotees usually worship Meenakshi first before offering their prayers to Sundareswarar.
The wedding ceremony of the deities is the main festival at Meenakshi Temple. Kolattam festival, Thai Utsavam, Arudhra Dharsan festival, Mulai-Kottu festival, Unjal festival, and Vasantham festival are other festivities that the temple celebrates. The celebration goes on during various months throughout the year.
Navrathri is another occasion for nine-day long festivals. During ‘Navrathri,’ the temple exhibits colorful dolls, which tell stories from mythological scenes. ‘Gollu’ is the collective name of these colorful dolls.
Dress conservatively. Men should wear traditional Dhotis, shirts, or pants because trousers are frowned upon as per religious sentiments.
Women are supposed to drape kurtas or sarees with upper garments. Sleeveless or shorts are a clear no at the sanctum sanctorum.
Temple Opening Hours: 05:00 am to 12:30 pm, 04:00 pm to 09:30 pm.
Darsan time: 05:00 am to 12:30 pm, 04:00 pm to 09:00 pm.
You can check Pooja offered and its prices on the temple website before coming for darshan.
Temple Website: www.maduraimeenakshi.org
Email id: [email protected]
Madurai Temple Contact number: 0091 452 2344360
Reach the temple at 4 pm and take in the beauty of outer towers. Then, make your way through the south gate to see Goddess Parvathi and Lord Shiva Shrine. Afterward, come out from the east gate(Opposite Lord Shiva Shrine), take a left, and you will see the Mandapam(Hall of 1000 pillars). At 09.15 pm, revisit the Shiva shrine to see the procession and exit from the south gate. Tickets for the Mandapam are issued by 08:00 pm only, and the Mandapam closes by 08:30 pm.
April is the month for Tourists who want to get lost in the vibrant festivities of Chithirai. For all other tourists, December to February are the cold months to visit Madurai.
J K Residency Hotel, Hotel Royal Court, Hotel Nambi, Hotel Senthil Residency, and Sri Temple Park are the hotels around Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple.
You can move around and strike a good deal with other budget or mid-range hotels in your price range. Kolam Madurai is one such hotel a short walk away from Meenakshi Temple.